WASHINGTON - Pakistan's Sindh province police on Thursday killed five suspected terrorists who had ties to al-Qaida and Islamic State terror groups in the southern port city of Karachi, according to provincial law enforcement officials.
Rao Anwaar, a senior provincial police official, told local media that the suspects were gunned down in a shootout with police who raided a compound believed to be housing terrorists near the Sachal neighborhood of Karachi.
"An important al-Qaida member, Amir Sharif, was killed in this shootout. The other four people killed were previously in Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, later switched to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP], and lately they have joined Islamic State," Rao Anwaar told local Pakistani media.
The suspects were allegedly planning to target the city during the current Islamic month of Muharram when Shi'ite Muslims commemorate the death anniversary of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the prophet of Islam on the 10th day of the month. Some extremists consider the annual ritual as blasphemous.
According to local law enforcement authorities, Amir Sharif was an engineer by profession and found evidence that he was an expert in drone technology.
Sharif reportedly improvised an explosive-laden vehicle that operates without a driver. Authorities believe he was likely going to use it to attack Shi'ite mourners on the day of Ashura. Two militants were also arrested during the raid on the compound in Karachi. Police recovered three suicide jackets, one rocket, hand grenades and other explosive materials.
In recent months, militants have increasingly become active in Karachi, the financial hub of Pakistan.
Ansar al-Sharia is a new al-Qaida-inspired militant group that claims to act as a platform for militants who have grown disaffected with the Islamic State militant group in the country. The group has recently emerged in Karachi.
The country's security officials are worried that young, highly educated students are increasingly being enticed by extremism.
"Unfortunately, according to the names that have come up in the investigation, their [Ansar al-Sharia] kill team has three young men who have masters [degrees] in applied physics," Major General Mohammad Saeed, the head of Rangers paramilitary security force in Karachi, told local media recently.
Speaking to VOA, Sanaullah Abbasi, chief of Sindh's counterterrorism department, expressed concerns about this emerging trend.
"Youth gravitating toward radicalization is Pakistan's continued challenge, and we're determined to overcome it," Abbasi said. "We have had meetings with several universities in Sindh to devise a program on how to identify students on the basis of their changing thinking and behavior patterns eventually leading them toward militancy."